I knew the situation was bad when Liechtenstein scored their unexpected (but not entirely unsurprising) goal against Scotland at Hampden on Tuesday night. Not because we were losing to minnows from a country with a population less than Stirling’s, but because the banterous text I’d sent to several English colleagues (that I wouldn’t be in the next day if the scoreline remained the same) was met with an eerie silence.

The next day confirmed my suspicions as one of that number gingerly approached my desk, chewing his bottom lip and looking away at the last second out of a painful awkwardness… “Jeff, why are Scotland so bad at football?” he ventured. My answer couldn’t have been more tragic and self-defeating… “I don’t know Mark” *sigh* “I don’t know”.

Wales have just parted with their coach John Toshack due to a poor set of results, a job-losing run that managed to include a 3-0 hammering of Scotland. A few weeks ago Scotland lost by the same scoreline to Sweden, a country that considers football only as an afterthought after ice hockey and has a vastly inferior domestic league. A disappointing draw with Lithuania followed with our best chance being a tame header and, well, we don’t need to say much more about Tuesday beyond a 97th minute winner against Liechtenstein.

And yet, this is more or less the same team that outplayed World Cup finalists Holland, the same team that beat France (home and away) and the same team that beat recent World Cup quarter finalists Ukraine and Czech Republic. Consider this too – Scotland beat Liechtenstein 2-1, Lichtenstein lost 4-0 to Germany and Germany also put 4 past England (ergo, England and Liechtenstein are on a par), Capello’s boys beat Swtizerland this week 3-1 and Switzerland beat Spain 1-0 during the World Cup. We are, if you really want to see it, world champions.

No, I’m not convinced either (particularly, as Malc has pointed out, Germany’s tonking of both Liechtenstein and England nullifies any claim we may have had, not to mention Argentina’s 4-1 over Spain win this week). Anyway, I am digressing here with my ‘conkers’ philosophy applied to football.

There are, of course, other sports out there and we shouldn’t get too hung up about whether eleven of our countrymen can kick a pig’s bladder around a grassy knoll better than another country’s eleven men but there’s no denying that Scotland’s people have suffered through their starvation from football tournaments. 1998 was so long ago and the next World Cup is at Brazil. Brazil! We need to get better in order to be there. I’ve already freely admitted to the key stakeholder involved that I’d happily plan the family planning around my frolicking in a kilt at Copacabana 2014.

So, let’s focus, what factors can be ruled out?

Managers Granted, Berti Vogts was a blip but we have had a long(ish) line of great managers that have achieved excellence with clubs but have failed to take Scotland to equally great heights. Whatever the run of results are that lie ahead, fault can hardly be blamed at Craig Levein’s door given that Walter Smith, Alex McLeish and George Burley never made the step forward in their tenures.

Scotland may be a small country and not quite have the same populations as other countries out there but if Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, Ireland, Portugal, Croatia and other countries can qualify regularly, so too should Scotland. We must have more kids per capita playing football than the above countries since we don’t have hockey, winter sports, hurling and other sports clouding our youngsters minds. I would say that we can look to New Zealand for hope as that tiny nation even had a banker come on as a substitute as they drew with Italy but, well, last time played them we scraped a 1-1 draw. (It was painful, I was there…)

So where are we going wrong? Well, too much talent must be slipping through our fingers. Why isn’t Aiden McGeady playing for Scotland? Or Hamilton wunder-kid James McCarthy? Both have opted for Ireland in spite of their Glaswegian roots and both have been hailed as special talents, the former only this week by his boss Giovanni Trappatoni.

We can’t build World Cup quality teams with players who only know how to ‘throw it up the line’ in the hope that they’ll make it all the way to the end and win the ultimate prize…. a corner. McGeady and McCarthy took their Glasgow accents over to Republic of Ireland because the Scottish setup does not allow kids to play for their country and their school. Of course teenagers are going to want to play with their mates week in and week out so it’s no wonder that they use their ancestry to get the best of both worlds.

It’s such a silly rule making kids choose international football over school football. We shouldn’t be scaring away our next generation of talent on the off chance that Twechar High School breaks a few legs. Well, there’s more than an off chance of that, but you take my point.

The Old Firm must surely take its fair share of the blame, buying up talent at the other Scottish clubs and leaving it to rot in the reserves. You have to wonder about people who train all their lives to play football and then take a ‘dream move’ to Celtic or Rangers and get paid tens of thousands a week just to warm the bench.

There’s more to it of course. A better diet and less junk food would help (free school meals anyone?), more time spent outside just playing on the street and a more rigorous P.E. set up at schools are surely all areas where we’re lagging behind our sporting rivals. More importantly, we need to set the imagination free on the football field; more time on the ball, more time on tricks and flicks and more time bringing on the next McRonaldo that will take us to a Tartan Army-tastic World Cup.

I look forward to that day, that day when English colleagues can look me in the eye again as they joyfully, respectfully, healthily give Scotland a right slagging in the name of banter.